High school physics teacher Len Bugel brings handy presence to MiniBooNE
An ideal future designed by Len Bugel would
include a fourth type of neutrino and a D-Type
Jaguar. And while a fourth neutrino remains
speculative, Bugel might be closer to spotting the
particle than he is to owning the car.
"A D-Type sold at auction recently for just under $2 million," Bugel
said. "There were about 80 built for competition. They won the
LeMans [24-hour] race three times in a row in the late 1950s. That's
the one I'll have if I ever win a lottery. Of course I don't actually buy
lottery tickets. The lottery is a tax on those who are bad at math."
For now, he's satisfied with the D-Type image on his website, to go
with photos of three other vintage British sports cars he has at home
in Vermont: a 1951 MG-TD, a 1959 MGA (he's driven that one to
Fermilab) and a 1969 E-Type Jaguar that's almost refurbished.
The MiniBooNE experiment is another project nearing completion,
with the anticipation of recording its first data in 2002. That's where
a fourth neutrino might signal its appearance. The compact,
short-baseline neutrino experiment, based at Fermilab's 8-GeV
Booster accelerator (hence the name), aims at confirming or refuting
the evidence for neutrino oscillations claimed by the Liquid
Scintillating Neutrino Detector (LSND) experiment at Los Alamos
"I really want to see this result one way or the other," Bugel said.
"The Los Alamos signal is very intriguing, and it almost requires that
there be a fourth neutrino of some sort if it's confirmed. So we all
want to know one way or the other. And if there's that much physics
beyond the Standard Model, that would be pretty exciting."
It would also be a gratifying
presentation as a modern topic in
physics for his high school students
back in Vermont, when he returns to
the Stratton Mountain School from
this second sabbatical year at
Fermilab. While Bugel fits easily into
the MiniBooNE collaboration as a sort
of "long-term part-timer," being a
high-school teacher makes him a
rarity in the working field of high-energy physics. His niche in the
collaboration might normally be filled by a postdoctoral researcher,
but his contribution (including his background as a mechanical
engineer) adds value that can't be measured by degrees.
"The bottom line is that he's incredibly valuable," said MiniBooNE
co-spokesperson Janet Conrad. "He might not match a postdoc's
level of sophistication with data analysis. But he's REALLY
sophisticated in building things and solving problems, and in handling
the everyday tasks of what an experimental physicist actually does.
He thinks like a physicist. And he's a mechanical engineer, which is
an extremely handy skill to have on an experiment."
Bugel's most recent project involves calculating the stresses on
thousands of photomultiplier tubes during the upcoming task of filling
the MiniBooNE detector tank with 250,000 gallons of oil. The tank
will be filled later in the year, and at lower temperatures, than
originally planned. But the greatest concern has grown from the
shattering loss of thousands of photomultiplier tubes when fluid was
replaced in Japan's Super-K neutrino detector on November 12.
Bugel's calculations compared the pressure in the shockwave,
should a tube at the bottom of the MiniBooNE tank implode, to the
shockwave pressure in Super-K where the tubes survived within a
few meters of the surface.
Bugel's verdict: MiniBooNE is in the clear.
"In our most conservative model, we've got a safety factor of about
two," he concluded. "Our tubes are rated to withstand a higher
pressure than theirs, so I really don't think we have a problem."
When he arrived at the lab this past
summer, Bugel found a project that
seemed to be waiting for his
hands-on creativity. The collaboration
wanted to plan a series of
measurements of the magnetic field
inside the experiment's horn, which
focuses and directs the particle beam
for neutrino production. Efforts had
produced a probe that could be
mounted to cooling ports on the outside of the horn and inserted into
the internal electromagnetic field.
"They wanted 300 measurements," Bugel recalled. "But each time,
you would have to turn off the power supply and go into the cage to
move the probe. That takes 15 minutes. Multiply 300 measurements
by 15 minutes, and you've got a big chunk of time. I thought there
had to be some simple way of indexing the probe without going into
What Bugel came up with was a little spring-loaded ball in a collar,
with machined detents in the probe placed at one-centimeter
intervals, and a plastic rope tied to the end and fed out through the
cage. The procedure: take a measurement, pull the rope so the
probe moves to the next click, measure, pull to the next click, and so
on. Bugel took his design to technician Andy Lathrop and together
they made the modification.
"This way," Bugel said, "you can get 30 measure-ments without
having to go into the cage. And then, you only have to go in there 10
times to mount the probe in a different hole. I spent a couple of days
doing that, but it saved the experiment a couple of weeks of time."
For that improvement, MiniBooNE can thank the legacy of a father
who tinkered, out of interest and necessity, as Bugel grew up in the
Hudson Valley mill town of Philmont in upstate New York, where his
86-year-old mother still lives.
"My dad had a 10th-grade education but he was very clever," Bugel
recalled. "We never had any money, but any time something broke
he took it apart and figured out how it worked, and he fixed it. That's
what he did, and that's what I learned to do."
Early in his career as a mechanical engineer, Bugel answered a job
ad for a physics teacher at a small private school in Vermont,
thinking it would be fun to do for a little while. He's now been there
almost 30 years. Stratton Mountain School has 100 students in
grades nine through 12—all serious snow athletes.
"The school grew up around a ski racing program," he said. "When I
say they're serious, I'm talking about 20-odd alumni who have been
Olympic skiers or World Cup competitors. It's a pretty high-powered
program. I often hear other teachers bemoaning money spent on
athletics, but I deal with kids who are really serious about athletics
and I see it as a great motivator. Every kid who's there wants to be
there. He may not want to study physics, but he knows he has to do
it to stay there—and he finds there's lots of physics in skiing."
Bugel, who built his own house in Vermont ("I installed a photovoltaic
system and the house uses no commercial electrical power," he
says), teaches conceptual physics to ninth-graders and standard
physics to 12th-graders at Stratton Mountain, emulating the Leon
Lederman model of beginning the high school science cycle with
physics. He was recently cited for his outstanding classroom efforts
by the Network of Educators in Science and Technology in Boston,
which grew from a summer workshop at MIT for middle school and
high school teachers ("It used to be New England Science Teachers,
but we outgrew New England, and we wanted to add technology
and keep NEST as the acronym," he chuckled). He enlivens his
senior class with modern physics topics—relativity, quantum
mechanics, cosmic ray measurements—adapted from his Fermilab
The lab connection began in the fall of 1993, when Bugel applied to
a Department of Energy program called TRAC, a summer research
program for high school teachers at national laboratories (TRAC is
still running at Fermilab, though no longer as a DOE-wide program).
Bugel's application caught the eye of Janet Conrad at Fermilab's
NuTeV experiment, and she arranged an eight-week position at
NuTeV for the summer of 1994. Bugel built the experiment trigger
with a Columbia University grad student, then worked on a cosmic
ray data analysis project that turned into a publication on using the
NuTeV calorimeter to characterize high-energy cosmic ray muons.
Bugel enjoyed the summer experience so much, he wanted to spend
a sabbatical year at Fermilab. He'd been at Stratton Mountain for
almost 20 years at the time, and thought he was due for some time
off. The school supported him, and so did the lab. Kevin McFarland,
a postdoc Bugel had met at NuTeV, suggested to the lab's
Directorate that a year-long fellowship for high school teachers was
a worthwhile idea. The Directorate agreed, and Bugel returned a
year later on the first Fermilab Teacher Fellowship. (Another high
school teacher, Robert Sparks of Bradenton, Florida is currently
spending a year working on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.)
"As an educational institution, Fermilab is the most wonderful
educational environment I've ever experienced, including
universities," Bugel said. "I suppose if you wanted to come here and
NOT learn anything, you probably could, but you'd have to work at
Still, there might come a summer when he's drawn to a place other
than the lab.
"Somebody in the Canary Islands saw my Web page with the
D-Type as my dream car," Bugel said. "He emailed me that he
owned one, and if I ever got to the Canary Islands I should look him
up and we could take it for a drive. That's almost enough to make
me want to buy a ticket to the Canary Islands."
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